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Why Are Pundits and Elites Trying to Drive a Wedge Between Generations?

Washington's elites are laboring to pit the young against the old in in a Hunger Games-style ritualized battle: Generational War.

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Dr. Emanuel's latest construction is worse than pointless. It's destructive. His latest contribution to the Younger Games comes in the form of a New York  Times editorial called " Share the Wealth," in which he notes that poverty for children is on the rise while poverty for elderly Americans has declined.

There are many things terribly, terribly wrong with this argument, not the least of which is the dishonesty with which Emanuel cherry-picks the facts to create the illusion that the elderly are getting rich at the expense of the young. But Emanuel's real  Hunger Games flourish is in the unstated premise behind his use of these statistics: that the right way to address poverty isn't by eliminating it, but by distributing it more effectively among competing groups.

"Growing up in poverty is bad," Dr. Emanuel helpfully informs his readers.Then come statements like this: "The rising standard of living among older Americans is largely a result of the tens of thousands of dollars each collects from Social Security and Medicare." (Actually, the standard of living for most older Americans is most likely declining, not rising.) "... This huge transfer of wealth," Emanuel continues, "is harming our children."

Except, of course, that there is no "transfer of wealth" between young and old. Social Security is entirely self-funded, by  law. And every proposal to "save" the program from future actuarial imbalances involves taking  much more from today's children than they would lose even if the program weren't changed at all.

Like his fellow Effies, Dr. Emanuel never discusses the real transfer of wealth that's endangering our fiscal security and leading to that long-term shortfall - the transfer of national income to the wealthiest among us. High unemployment is another contributor to the program's long-term shortfall, but Effies aren't permitted to mention that either.

Medicare will be in serious financial trouble in coming decades, but the problem isn't that older Americans are demanding too much medical care. The problem is runaway greed in our healthcare economy - greed which encompasses for-profit hospitals, physician practice management companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and diagnostic imaging providers, to name but a few.

Emanuel proposes creating a "Children's Opportunity Bequest and Fund," where "old Americans could agree to forego Social Security and Medicare for one to three years." The money could be directed to "their very own grandchildren" or "any specific child identified by their Social Security number." He never mentions the many ways grandparents can already give cash and gifts to their grandchildren, so we'll help him out: They have names like "trust fund," "savings account, "Hanukah gelt, "Communion gift ...."

Why should government resources be used to create yet another vehicle for this purpose?

Ezekiel then meanders into some convoluted "we could also" ideas, including a "Children's Opportunity Fund" that a "would support the early childhood education of a randomly chosen newborn from a family below the poverty line."

Hunger Games fans will immediately see the parallels between this proposal and the system which allowed young people to collect credit points by increasing their likelihood of being chosen as a sacrifice. Why does Ezekiel propose such a redundant and foolhardy contraption? Either he's not thinking very clearly or he's deliberately befuddling the public. (We do know he's a serial misleader on the subject of retirement benefits - see  Dean Baker for an example).

Phony arguments? A government system which encourages oldsters to sacrifice themselves for youngsters - and even uses their Social Security numbers? All presumably accompanied by propaganda campaigns encouraging seniors to give up their benefits and stigmatizing those who don't? Congratulations, Doc! That's real  Hunger Games material.

 
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